Nearly one year ago to the day, Cal men’s basketball entered the hostile territory that is Viejas Arena, fought off both San Diego State and its rabid, unforgiving fan base and escaped with a 1-point victory. With the battle having moved up north to Haas Pavilion, another barn burner would once again end in Cal’s favor.
In a game that featured 20 lead changes and 30 ties and saw both teams exchange blows like perennial heavyweights, it would be the Bears holding their hands high when the clock finally ticked down to zero with the team defeating San Diego State, 89-83.
In front of the largest home crowd this season, freshman Matt Bradley knocked down the game-winning 3-pointer from the left wing with 28 seconds remaining as the Bears pulled away with its gutsiest win of the season.
“The atmosphere tonight was terrific, and it made a difference to have that kind of atmosphere tonight,” said Cal head coach Wyking Jones. “I think it really helped my team to be able to go out there and play well.”
There were a lot of positives mixed into this one, aside from just the victory as the Bears set season highs in assists (18) and 3-pointers (13).
“For us to have …18 assists — to me, that was the difference,” Jones said. “We got a chance to see what we’ve been wanting the whole time and just our guys playing together. I think that was the difference in the win tonight.”
Playing an invaluable part in Cal’s monumental victory was a coaching decision that ended up transforming the fabric of this ballgame.
With freshman Andre Kelly in foul trouble for most of the game, Jones called sophomore Grant Anticevich’s number. The Aussie wouldn’t disappoint, as his toughness down low and confidence to shoot the ball resulted in him posting a career-high 13 points and six rebounds, with five rebounds on the offensive end.
“My coaches give me a lot of confidence and put a lot of confidence in me to play my game and shoot when I’m open and be aggressive, and my teammates do the same,” Anticevich said. “Justice (Sueing), all my teammates were really talking to me and telling me to be confident and play. Just went out there relaxed and played.”
Anticevich entered the game having only taken four shots over 24 total minutes, but the forward wasn’t gun-shy upon entering the game, taking 10 shots in 26 minutes. Jones appeared to like what he saw out of Anticevich’s solid play in the first half and elected to start him in the second half instead of freshman Connor Vanover.
“(Anticevich) came off the bench today, and he really made the difference, I think,” Sueing said. “Our team, we’re already hyped, he came in, got a couple buckets, got a couple offensive rebounds, just fed into us, fed into the crowd as well, everyone’s getting their groove on, and it really showed.”
Redshirt junior Paris Austin, had his best night as a playmaker since making his return to the Bay Area, tying his career high of nine assists while going without a turnover. The point guard also chipped in 15 points and knocked down two 3-pointers, the first time he has hit multiple threes in a ball game.
“The ball just moved a whole lot better tonight, and so he found himself in situations where he felt comfortable to take the shot because the ball was swung to him at the right time,” Jones said.
Led by sophomore Justice Sueing’s season-high 23 points, five Bears, including Anticevich and Austin, finished the game in double figures, the third time this season they’ve spread out the scoring in that manner.
Despite coming off the bench, Bradley still managed to stuff the stat sheet, putting up 11 points, four rebounds and three assists.
“We were just trusting each other I think. Matt had a huge shot at the end and we all trust him,” Sueing said. “He’s one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.”
Unlike a rather lethargic game against San Francisco, Cal came out with some juice right out of the gate. With dead week having come to its conclusion, the Bears awoke and came ready to play.
That energy was most apparent on the offensive rebounds. In the first half, the Bears fought for those precious extra possessions and turned them into found money. Anticevich had a pair of tip-ins, and freshman Jacobi Gordon turned an offensive rebound into a putback plus the foul.
The Aztecs and Bears ran a combination of a full-court press and zone defense, but neither squad had any success in locking down the other’s offense. Both teams minimized turnovers, only giving the ball away five times apiece, and shot a combined 32 of 58 from the field in the first half of play.
Jones stuck with the hot hand and went with Anticevich to begin the second half in favor of Vanover. But when Kelly was called for his fourth foul with 16:50 remaining in the second half, Jones ended up having to roll the dice with both big men, a combination that had seldom been used before.
The second half of play proved to be a certified ballgame, one featuring a back-and-forth action that Cal has seldom experienced.
Austin and Gordon hit a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers before San Diego State’s Jordan Schakel and Jeremy Hemsley responded with a pair of their own.
At the 11-minute mark, Anticevich knocked down a triple at the top of the key before Jalen McDaniels took it right back to the Aussie and converted a hoop plus the harm.
After Hemsley knocked down a 3-pointer just a tick after the five-minute mark, San Diego State took an 8-point lead and appeared on the verge of running away with the ballgame. But lo and behold, here came Cal.
Over the last five minutes of play, the Bears flipped a switch and ended the game on an 18-5 run, a stretch that included 7 unanswered points.
With 1:44 left, Sueing hit a go-ahead 3-pointer that put Cal ahead by 1, and Kelly hit a beautiful shot out of the post for his only points of the game to put his squad up by 3.
Shackel responded with a game-tying three with 51 seconds remaining to notch things up at 83 apiece, but right out of the timeout, Bradley put the game on ice with his clutch shot.
The photo credit accompanying a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that a photo taken by Lorenzo dela Cruz was a staff photo. In fact, it should have been credited as a file.